CARIBOU MIGRATION II | Oil and The Caribou | 2002 | 68x86 inches
The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the core calving area of the Porcupine River caribou herd. It is also the most debated public land in the United States history - whether to open up this land to oil and gas development or to preserve it has been raging in the halls of the United States Congress for over thirty years. This caribou herd has symbolized the Arctic Refuge - both for its ecological and cultural significance. Individual caribou from this herd may travel more than three thousand miles during their yearly movements, making it one of the longest terrestrial migrations of any land animal on the planet. Numerous indigenous communities living within the range of the herd have depended on the caribou for subsistence food. The Gwich'in people of Alaska, and the northern Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada, live on or near the migratory route of this herd, have relied upon the caribou for many millennia to meet their subsistence as well as cultural and spiritual needs. The Gwich'in are caribou people. They call the calving ground of the caribou “Iizhik Gwats'an Gwandaii Goodlit” (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins). To open up the caribou calving ground to oil and gas development is a human-rights issue for the Gwich'in Nation. In addition to the perceived threat of oil development in their calving ground, this caribou herd has been severely impacted by climate change in recent years. International scientific community has stated that climate change has impacted this herd more than most of the other large caribou herds across the circumpolar Arctic. Their numbers has declined steadily at a 3.5% per year since 1989 from 178,000 animals to a low of 123,000 in 2001. Warmer, wetter autumn resulting in more frequent icing conditions; warmer, wetter winter resulting in deeper and denser snow; and warmer spring resulting in more freeze-thaw days and faster spring melt are among the key negative climate change impacts on the caribou and their habitat. In the photograph pregnant females are migrating over Coleen River on the south side of the Brooks Range Mountain on their way to the coastal plain for calving.